Taiwanese Air Force Intercepts PLA Jets in Nighttime Drill Over International Waters
19:22 GMT 19.03.2020(updated 19:41 GMT 19.03.2020)
Jets from Taiwan's air force recently rushed to intercept Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) fighters flying over international waters in the Taiwan Strait.
According to a spokesperson for the Taiwanese Defense Ministry, several PLAAF J-11 fighter jets and KJ-500 airborne early warning aircraft carried out the service's first "night flight training" Monday evening over the waters southwest of Taiwan.
The Chinese Communist Party-owned Global Times reported on Wednesday that the exercises showed the PLA "is fully capable of launching military operations on the island at any time of a day" and noted that similar drills can be expected in the future "in order to let Taiwan secessionists get a clear idea of the power gap between the mainland and the island."
Alexander Huang Chieh Cheng, a professor of international affairs and strategic studies at Taipei's Tamkang University, told the South China Morning Post, "In addition to enhancing all-weather capability of its military fleet, the communist warplanes' fly-by is aimed at sending out the message that it is business as usual with PLA war games despite the coronavirus outbreak in mainland China."
A J-11 fighter flies above the South China Sea on Oct. 30, 2015. An aviation division under the South China Sea Fleet of the Chinese PLA Navy carried out on Friday training on real air battle tactics.
Lin Yingyou, an assistant professor at the Institute of Strategy and International Affairs of the National Chung Cheng University in Taiwan, told Taiwan Central News Agency on Tuesday that the drill demonstrated to the Chinese public that the PLA has "the ability to maintain good combat readiness during the epidemic prevention period."
Lin noted the US military has made similar posture statements as the COVID-19 novel coronavirus spreads in the United States.
Taiwanese air force jets scrambled to intercept the PLAAF fighters after they crossed the median line in the Taiwan Strait - an action widely interpreted and reported as threatening. Taiwan News, for example, characterized the episode as China "ramping up its military threat to Taiwan, and Agence France-Presse in Taipei called it an "incursion," even falsely claiming the jets had "briefly entered its [Taiwan's] airspace."
"After our air reconnaissance and patrol aircraft responded appropriately, and broadcast [an order] to drive them away, the Communist aircraft flew away from our Air Defense Identification Zone," the Taiwanese Defense Ministry said in a Monday statement, according to Reuters.
The following day, a Taiwanese military spokesperson posted on Facebook heaps of praise for the island's F-16 Falcon fighters, which the US is upgrading and the most recent version of which - the F-16V "Viper" - Taipei is buying from Washington.
"As The Republic of China Air Force, we will not let enemy planes fly over our heads," the spokesperson's post says. "There is no difference between day and night!"
The government in Taipei is the last surviving part of the old Republic of China, which ruled the country between 1912, when the last emperor was overthrown, and 1949, when the communist Red Army conquered the mainland. Taiwan jealously guards its autonomy from Beijing, but maintains it is the legitimate government of all of China, which includes the island of Taiwan. In turn, the communist government in Beijing regards Taiwan as a rebellious, wayward province and the support given to Taipei as foreign intervention in internal Chinese affairs.
"The median line in the Taiwan Strait is not recognized by international law, and neither side is technically violating the other's airspace by crossing it," the Taiwan Sentinel noted in April 2019 after another incident in the strait, which separates Taiwan from the mainland.
According to the UN Convention on Laws of the Sea, nations only have jurisdiction over airspace and sea within 12 miles of their coastlines - at its narrowest, the median line is 40.5 miles from Taiwan's coast.
"The convention that neither side's warplanes shall cross the line is nothing more than an informal agreement," the Sentinel notes. "In other words, if Taiwan were to shoot down a Chinese warplane that crossed the median line, international law would hold China to be in the right and Taiwan to be in the wrong … Taiwan technically has no legal right to shoot down such aircraft before or unless they have actually entered within 12 miles of the Taiwanese coast itself."
The PLAAF also flies "encirclement" drills that circumnavigate Taiwan, such as flights last month by J-11 fighters and H-6 bombers that the Taiwanese air force intercepted and which Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council protested to Beijing as "provocative."
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